Rebuilding Foundations

An exploration of international development work in Africa

Archive for the month “September, 2014”

Language Lesson #3

All the English-speaking foreigners here affect the same “Ghanaian” accent when speaking to locals, but our accent doesn’t actually sound anything like how Ghanaians speak English.  Why do we this?  Why?


Language Lesson #2

In Ghana, people add “O” to the end of word to give it emphasis.  For instance, if you’re really sorry then you say, “Sorry-oh.”

Language Lesson #1


There are three native languages in Ghana: Dagbani, Dagari, and Twi.

In Tamale, the local language is Dagbani.  I’ve learned a few words so far, but not very many.  Below is my repertoire, although the spelling is probably wrong

Despa = good morning
Enteray = good day
Anoola = good evening
Naa = fine
Allafay = it’s good
Tapaya = thank you

A walk in the morning goes like this:
Me, passing the woman who owns the store next to my host-family’s house: “Despa”
Woman in the store: “Naa.”

“Naa” answers everything.  If someone says something to me that I don’t understand (but seems polite, versus the men who are normally saying things that obviously aren’t polite” then I respond “Naa.”  It’s a long drawn-out word, more like “Naaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah” than the song “Na nanananana na nana na nana na nanana naaa.”

If I’ve already said “Naa” then “Allafay” is a good answer too.  After that, I admit to the other person “I’m sorry but that’s all I know” and they usually laugh at me, but it’s a nice laugh.

There.  Now you’re set for traveling the Northern Region in Ghana!

Update 1
There are actually many more than 3 native languages in Ghana.  Dagbani, Dagari, and Twi are only the 3 most common in the Northern Region.


In the final year of my undergrad degree, I took a geography course called “The History of Environmental Thought.”  It was a seminar course, similar to the classes I’m now taking during my master’s degree.  That means we spent a lot of time sitting around and talking.

After the week of readings by romantic poets, we discussed our own feelings towards “nature.”  Almost everyone in the class was from a middle-class Canadian background and we all expressed similar sentiments.  Only outdoors-y types took that class, after all.  We described our favourite camping and hiking spots, the places where we found amazing peace and serenity that gave the best “Feeling blessed” Facebook photo updates.  We competed to see who had the top “This one time in the lake near my family’s cabin” stories*.

All except one person.  He was the only immigrant in our tutorial group.  He was from Uganda and had very different feelings towards nature.

He said that the forest was a scary place that he tried to avoid.  It wasn’t somewhere where he would go to “find himself.”  We looked at him with pity.  He looked at us like we were mental.

In Canada, we’re incredibly lucky with our landscapes.  I have no fears about hiking the mountain near my parent’s house alone or with the dog.  There are few predators, including both people and animals.  Mostly, we love nature because we’re separated from it.  After three days of camping, I know there’s a hot shower and working toilet waiting for me.  I know I can walk into my clean house and slip into soft sheets to sleep.  I love nature because I can choose when and how we interact.

Here, though, I notice that my attitude is changing.  There’s a forest beside a part of the road where lots of expats live.  It’s known as a high area of crime at night because thieves can easily hide.  When I run in the mornings, I choose paths that are busy.  Sometimes I see a turn that looks beautiful, but is deserted.  Instead, I always go where women are sitting outside their huts cooking breakfast and children walk in their school uniforms.

Moreover, I can’t get away from nature.  My feet are always dirty.  My clothes are always dusty.  It’s always hot.  I don’t feel any need to seek tranquillity by sitting under a tree – I’d rather sit inside under a fan.

What a princess I’ve turned out to be.

*Being from BC, I couldn’t join in.  Ontario is cabin country, not here.  But I grew up with the ocean and mountains beside my house, so they can suck it.

Working Day

The Savelugu Assembly buildings (like Vancouver's City Hall)

The Savelugu Assembly buildings (like Vancouver’s City Hall)

Inside our Savelugu Office

Inside our Savelugu Office


It’s been a month since arriving in Ghana and I’m starting to feel more comfortable here.  Work is less daunting now that I’m more familiar with the country and my coworkers.  Moreover, I’m starting to find happiness in small things.

Here’s a short list of things that make me content:

  • The feel of washing the day’s sweat and dirt off my body
  • Finding lettuce at the market
  • Having a firm poo the day after eating said lettuce
  • An email from home
  • A good night’s sleep
  • Hearing P-Square’s song “Chop My Money” on the radio in my taxi
  • Baby goats


According to my vague memories of Bugs Bunny cartoons, Gremlins are fictional creatures invented in WWII by soldiers to explain why electrical equipment kept malfunctioning.  They’re like sock monsters that live in dryers and eat socks so you never have a matching pair: absolutely awful.

But I feel a special affinity with gremlins because I, too, have issues with electronics.

For instance, my USB seems to have a virus on it.  Despite reformatting it, new files keep appearing and mine keep disappearing.  It’s a technological nightmare.

It began two days ago when I went to Wa, a 5-hour bus ride east of Tamale, to record the last survey for this quarter.  The radio announcer who reads the surveys was busy that day, so during the afternoon the Information Officer and I were able to write the last survey plus another three surveys necessary for next quarter.

The next morning at 7am I met the radio announcer and we recorded all four surveys.  We were finished by 8am.  Ag man, did I feel productive!  Yes yes yes!

Then I started editing the audio files and my USB deleted it all.  I panicked, afraid that I had someone affected the Wa Information Officer’s computer that I was using.  What if I ruined everything?

I phoned my coworker and told her the story, laughing somewhat manically.  She explained how to reformat my USB.  I talked the radio announcer and – even though he was really busy – he was able to come back to the Assembly at 11am to record the surveys.

When he showed up, it started to downpour.  We listened to the water pound the tin roof above our heads and I suggested we try waiting 5 minutes to see if it let up, otherwise the recording quality would be awful.  We sat in silence for a while, him on his phone and me contemplating whether this chapter of my life is a comedy or a tragedy.

Luckily the rain stopped shortly after and we were able to record all the surveys again.  Two UN consultants that I’d met the previous day gave me a ride back to Tamale and they even gave me a Nature Valley granola bar, so turned into a great afternoon.

Comedy, I decided.  Who knows – maybe I’ll even dress up as a man dressed as a woman sometime during this placement.

This morning, though, my USB went crazy again.  I plugged it into my coworker’s computer and created a new folder to better organize the surveys.  After moving the files into the new folder, the files disappeared.  I ejected the USB.  I put it back in.  New files appeared and seemed to multiply.

What was happening?

Ghana or Canada – it wouldn’t matter where I was, I’d still be completely lost.  I’ve never had a virus before.  That’s what this is, right?

Luckily I also saved the files on the Wa computer, so my colleague can zip the folder and email it me.  It just means that last survey won’t go out today.

I’m ready for things in this comedy to start coming together.  Unfortunately that doesn’t usually happen until after the Intermission and I’m not even 1/3 done my placement yet, but my sense of humour is starting to fade.  Perhaps, though, it’s funny to the audience?

Normally my electronics have Star Trek names (Enterprise, DS9) and my USB stick was previously named The Shuttle.

Now it’s called Gremlin.  And I might smash it with a rock.

Heather’s Blog

Check out my coworker’s awesome blog for more info and insights on Ghana, Amplify Governance, and life in general.

A broken clock is right twice a day

Sometimes when my phone is buried in my purse, I try to peer at strangers’ watches to see the time.

It didn’t take long for me to notice that although many men here wear watches, they are rarely the right time.  Most don’t even seem to be working.

All beauty, no function.

Information Van

Part of Amplify’s GIFTS program is to paint house numbers on buildings.  To begin, Amplify ran an education campaign so that citizens would know why people were entering their properties with cans of paint and brushes.  They put posters and banners around the district.  They ran radio ads.  Assembly members were told to tell their constituents about the project and some even went on local radio shows to discuss property rates and map-making.  Amplify sent information officers to talk to communities directly.  Lastly, they used the Information Van.

Every Assembly has its own Information Van: a truck mounted with loudspeakers.  It travels through communities and plays messages from politicians and government officials.

To me, the Information Van is kind of… hokey.  The voice through the speakers is distorted and the idea of “news” from a government vehicle seems like the perfect way to spread propaganda.

Here, though, people like the Information Van a lot.  It’s one of our most effective means of communication.  People trust it more than the radio or posters because it’s official – not just anyone can use the Information Van.

Moreover, it accesses the most people.  Not everyone has a radio.  Not everyone can read posters.  When the Information Van sits in the middle of a small community, however, it can reach everyone.

Next week, I’m going to ride around on it.  Whooo hooooo!

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